Public health ethics: asylum seekers and the case for political action

Bioethics. 2003 Oct;17(5-6):487-502. doi: 10.1111/1467-8519.00363.


This paper is a case study in public health ethics. It considers whether there is a basis in ethics for political action by health professionals and their associations in response to inhumane treatment. The issue arises from Australia's treatment of asylum seekers and the charge that this treatment has been both immoral and inhumane. This judgement raises several questions of broader significance in bioethics and of significance to the emerging field of public health ethics. These questions relate to the role of health professionals in response to inhumane treatment of people in their charge; to the discipline of public health in light of a growing recognition of its ethical basis; and the role of public health and bioethical associations in response to ethical issues arising in a political context. It is argued that, in serious cases of humanitarian and human rights abuses affecting health and well-being, there is a case for political action by health professionals, academic and professional institutions, and associations of public health and ethics.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethics, Professional
  • Government
  • Health Personnel
  • Human Rights Abuses* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Patient Advocacy* / ethics
  • Politics*
  • Professional Role*
  • Public Health / ethics*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Refugees*
  • Societies